Listening to Cord leader Raila Odinga’s narrative on the Kenya-Uganda sugar deal, he strongly feels it is tasteless and reckless. Why? Kenya has enough sugar for local consumption and if we import the commodity, that will lead to a total collapse of our sugar factories and hurt cane farmers.
But experts in the industry, including factories’ top managers, argue that Kenya does not produce enough sugar to meet its local demand. This is why it has over the years continued to import sugar to plug the deficit.
The farmers are not to blame for this sorry state of affairs as they have the capacity to grow and produce enough sugarcane. The problem lies squarely with the factories because they lack the capacity to crush and process enough sugar. Poor management, corruption and political interference are the root causes of low production.
But as it turns out, not all players in ODM read the same script as Raila. Kisumu Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o would concur with the experts that Kenya does not have the capacity to produce enough sugar. However, he argues that Uganda does not produce surplus sugar and hence the decision to import from there is ill-advised.
But this argument does not add up. Uganda is listed as a net exporter of sugar. Statistics show it produces 465,000 tonnes and local consumption stands at 320,000 tonnes, leaving it with a surplus.
As the sugar debate intensifies, the public’s eyes are trained on exchanges between Raila and Deputy President William Ruto. Cord has blamed Ruto for the troubles facing sugarcane farmers and for the collapse of sugar factories. Raila says the DP approved and issued licences to sugar barons who flooded the country with cheap imports when he served as the Agriculture minister in the Grand Coalition government.
Yes, many believed that Raila had every reason to fire back at Ruto because a day earlier the DP had accused him of owing the ailing Mumias Sugar Company millions of shillings.
The question is, does Raila have the moral authority to attack Ruto?
The two served in the same government and belonged to and espoused the ideals of the same political party, ODM. Besides being party leader, Raila was Prime Minister and shared power equally with President Mwai Kibaki. As such, one does not need to belabour the point that Raila wielded a lot of power and his word was final when recommending those who would serve in the Cabinet from ODM. Also, it is not lost that he was the coordinator and supervisor of the ministries and state departments.
In light of this, there is no doubt that Ruto, then Agriculture minister, was answerable to him. So why would Raila argue that Ruto illegally issued import licences to the sugar barons? Is this a confirmation he failed in his job? If Ruto committed any crime, one would have expected Raila to crack the whip. How come he did not do this? Why would he wait this long to speak out about these matters?
If indeed it is true Ruto issued the licences, it is hard to believe he could have done that without the Prime Minister’s approval. If that happened, then it means Raila was the coordinator and supervisor just on paper.
Many, however, believe that this was not the case. He knew everything that was happening in the ministries and no decision could be made without his approval. This particularly happened in the ministries led by individuals who hailed from his party.
The exchange between Ruto and Raila will not help to improve the livelihoods of sugarcane farmers. It will only make the situation worse and push farmers into abject poverty.
So, how do we move forward? The time has come for the leaders from both sides of the political divide to put aside their political differences and collectively focus on addressing the plight of the farmers.
To succeed in this, they must listen to the views and inputs of experts in the sector and be ready to implement their recommendations.
The author is a social commentator and political analyst.